Steam spoil Knights' jersey celebration

Steven Pantazopoulos - TRU Athletics Photo
Steven Pantazopoulos
— image credit: TRU Athletics Photo

Steven Pantazopoulos wished he could have laced them up one more time for the North Okanagan Knights Wednesday night at Nor-Val Sports Centre.

And the Knights probably could have used their former captain as they fell 3-1 to the Summerland Steam in their final Kootenay International Junior Hockey League tilt before the holidays.

Pantazopoulos, now with the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, was the guest of honour as the Knights retired his No. 51 to the Nor-Val rafters.

“It was pretty unreal,” said the Kelowna product, of the jersey retirement. “It’s nice to see that recognition and see that other people noticed some of the things we did.”

The game started well enough for the 16-16-0-1 Knights, who opened the scoring on Tanner Cochrane’s team-leading 11th goal. Morgan Johnston and Dryden Profeit drew assists at 9:41.

Cochrane’s brief tenure with the Knights will end at 13 games as he has been recalled by the BCHL Chilliwack Chiefs. With Tanner Burns, 20, already out with an injury and veteran forward Mat Lambert requesting a trade, head coach Shawn Webb is ready to turn the team over to his young guns.

“This happened to us last year. We lost four guys at the trade deadline and we pushed really hard on our 16s and 17s and we went 12-0,” said Webb.

“The New Year is going to bring a new and higher expectation of our rookies. We have faith that those kids can step their game up.”

The Steam (16-12-1-2), who leapfrogged North Okanagan into third place in the Okanagan Division, replied with a natural hat trick from Kienan Scott (17th, 18th and 19th goals).

Scott’s first came on a powerplay with Knights’ d-man Austin Garrington serving a boarding minor. The 17-year-old Penticton native then scored with 40 seconds remaining in the second frame, and completed the hatty with another man-advantage snipe midway through period three.

Webb said every time the Knights tried to push back, penalties would get in the way.

“We were carrying a lot of the play in the third period. We had a lot of good puck possession, but we took some stupid penalties at very bad times.”

Logan Geefs sparked a donnybrook late in the first period when he checked a Summerland player from behind. During the ensuing melee, Blaine Caton scrapped the Steam’s Cooper Holick, the son of former Vernon Vipers’ coach Mark Holick, to a draw. Caton, Geefs, Holick and Summerland’s Gordon Walters were ejected with 4:06 to play in period one.

Caton will miss the Knights’ first game of the New Year, Friday, Jan. 3 against the Grand Forks Border Bruins (10-17-2-2), as his fight took place after the initial altercation.

Pantazopoulos, meanwhile, has appeared in eight games with the WolfPack, registering eight penalty minutes.

“It’s a lot more competitive and a lot tougher to get in the lineup,” he said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of depth at forward. I’ve adjusted well, it’s just a matter of finding a bit of groove.”

Pantazopoulos, who is pursuing a business degree, said adapting to student-athlete life has also been a challenge.

“It’s a different experience with school and hockey and balancing all your time,” he said.

“It’s a lot different than Junior when you just show up at the rink and the only thing you have to think about is when you’re going to work out.”

WolfPack head coach Don Schulz was at Wednesday’s game to watch the banner-raising ceremony. He has been impressed with Pantazopoulos’ character and said the rookie forward is working hard to elevate his game to the collegiate level.

“He’s mature beyond his years and given Steven’s demeanor, it’s not surprising that he’s receiving this kind of recognition from his old team,” said Schulz.

“He is very much a team guy, on and off the ice. He has been in and out of the line up with us; foot speed is an issue with him at this level, but he is working extremely hard on and off the ice to improve it.

“He’s very determined, dedicated and has an excellent attitude. He’s very well liked in the dressing room and whether he is dressing or not, he always puts the team first.”


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